It’s a cold, windy morning in Rangeley, where a long-anticipated day has finally arrived: Saddleback Mountain is reopening.

The embattled ski area fired up its lifts Tuesday morning, Dec. 15, for passholders, a first in over five years of stalled operations after its former owners abruptly shut down the mountain in 2015.

According to Rangeley Town Manager Joseph Roach, even with COVID-19 looming over area businesses, it’s hard not to feel optimistic.

“I definitely feel the energy from the reopening,” Roach said Tuesday. “There’s definitely a sense of optimism in the town.”

In January, the Boston-based Arctaris Impact Fund acquired Saddleback’s some-6,400 acres for $6.5 million from its previous owners, the Berry family.

Since that purchase in January, the area has had a bit of a facelift, starting with badly needed replacement of the 1963 Rangeley double chairlift, which was infamous to local skiers for its long lines and its 11-minute ride to the summit. The new lift, now a quad, has shortened that ride to about four minutes, new Saddleback General Manager Andy Shepard told WGME. The base lodge was also updated and its capacity tripled, though skiers in the pandemic are encouraged to use their cars as their place to boot up for now.

The ski area’s new investors have also been in talks with the town about installing a solar farm to allow Saddleback to generate its own power as part of its long-term economic sustainability plan. The solar array, along with a proposed 6,000-square-foot mid-mountain lodge, have been met with skepticism from the Maine Appalachian Trail Club and Maine Audubon, which question its impact on views and local bird populations.

According to the Saddleback website, the Arctaris Impact Fund’s mission is “to invest in economically distressed communities across the country.” In this case, that means the Rangeley Lakes region. It’s a type of involvement unfamiliar to ski towns across the country after a succession of closures to local hills soured public opinion of buyouts.

Is Rangeley in need of that economic support?

“I think the answer is yes,” Roach said. “The reason I say it’s ‘yes’ is that (the investment) will continue to improve the outdoor experience in Rangeley. Saddleback is part of the Rangeley region’s identity. Having that infusion of support is really rounding things out for us.”

If the business model succeeds, it could also be a genuine boon to the local community.

“In addition to making the mountain a sustainable business,” Shepard told the Sun Journal in April, “we are also looking to help solve for accessible housing, affordable and quality day care, workforce development and finding ways to get seasonal workers year-round benefits.”

Rangeley and its surrounding plantations have already been investing in infrastructure improvements to supplement Saddleback’s absence, Roach said. The town invested about $5 million in road bonds over the past five years, and projects in the works include an overlook sidewalk project, a tax increment financing district downtown to fund infrastructure projects, and an initiative to improve the area’s broadband internet connection, for which the Board of Selectmen is still meeting.

“It’s a really exciting time to be in Rangeley,” Roach said.

The resort had six trails and three lifts open Tuesday after groomers manicured a light dusting of real snow and a crush of snowmaker powder, according to the mountain’s first snow report in half a decade. Two lifts opened at 9 a.m. to a mid-sized crowd of skiers and snowboarders. The resort stays open until 3:50 p.m. Tuesday. The mountain’s COVID-19 response and requirements are available online.